Connolly, John. The Book of Lost Things. New York: Washington Square Press, 2006.
David is a small boy who lives in England with his father and his mother. His mother dies, David's father remarries, and his stepmother gives birth to a son. The family of four moves into a home that had been in the stepmother's family for generations. Throughout this time, David begins having "fits" that leave his father concerned and the doctors puzzled. With WWI raging on England's doorstep, David's family should be safer in the country. But the books in David's room are whispering to him and he hears his mother's voice calling from a hidden corner of the garden ...
Wow. I have been pondering for days how to describe this book, and the best I can come up with is, "Narnia without the allegory." As far as I know, Connolly is not a Christian, so this book, while being a very C.S. Lewis-esque fantasy journey, is not allegorical. That fact, however, does not make this story a bad one.
I thoroughly enjoyed David's obsession with reading, especially fairy tales, and I liked the way the author wove David's fairy tale passion into the otherworld he enters. The tales that his companions tell along the way are similar enough to our common fairy tales to be familiar, but they definitely share a sardonic twist. I enjoyed following the plot and trying to discover whom David should trust and whom he should not trust. The story ended well, which is was satisfying. Overall, the story itself was a good one, well told, that kept me on the edge of my seat at the right times and begged me to come back and read "just one more chapter" until the end.
However, I will give two warnings: first, this story is considerably darker in tone than the Narnian stories. As such, although the protagonist is a child, I do not recommend this story to anyone still in single-digit years. :) This is a good pre-teen or teen to discuss with mom and dad book, or a good adult read on their own book. It is not a children's story.
Second, I would like to remind my lovely former students of a warning I gave them so many eons ago when they were in my class. Do any of you remember which objectionable element is most dangerous? Yes - religious or philosophical ideas. I have warned you time and time again to be careful about whom the author wants you to like, to cheer for, to feel compassion for. This book contains an excellent example of this issue:
During his journey, David is visited several times by a person he calls the Crooked Man. CM comes to David's house and is seen in the baby's room, and he pops up periodically throughout David's journey to save the day. Time and time again he asks David to tell him the name of his baby brother, and he promises David all sorts of things in return for this information. Clearly, he is not to be trusted.
Another thing he likes to do is to make David doubt his traveling companions. At one point, CM hints that David's companion, a knight, is gay and wants David for more than just a traveling buddy. David is revolted at the way CM explains this to him, and therein, my former students, lies the problem. Who in the story thinks homosexuality is wrong? The crooked man. But who is the bad guy? Again, the crooked man. So an author has taken a very well-written story, given you some likeable characters and some hateable bad guys, and then had the bad guy spout off the very belief he wishes to mock. Authors do not do this accidentally. Please, please, if you remember nothing else that I have taught you, bear in mind that you must keep your brain firmly screwed into your head when you read.
Lesson over. It must be 2:10 [this is a shout-out to last year's honors juniors]. Bottom line: interesting story, very well written, some great passages, but not without its dangers. Always swim with a buddy.